Monday, February 28, 2005

The Florida backlash

If this piece is any indication, a backlash against Richard Florida's Rise of the Creative Class is in full swing. While there are many legitimate criticisms of the book, this piece misses the mark, and comes off as petty and self-serving.

From my perspective, the biggest problem with RCC is that it is WAAAYYYYY too long. He could have easily made all of his points in one-third of the pages he uses. What he says, however, is typically right. It's hard to argue with the data he's assembled.

So let's move on to Karrie Jacobs' complaints:
  • She's incredulous that "a third of Americans are earning a living at self-expression" and tries immediately to tie it to yuppie consumerism: "Or is it just that 30 percent of us own iPods or prefer Chipotle burritos to McDonald's burgers?"
  • She mocks Florida's definition of creative professions. The super-creative core "already represents a very generous definition of creativity." She then relies on a tired creative accounting joke to dismiss the broader definition of the creative class.
Let's look at this "very generous definition" more closely. It contains "computers and math, architecture and engineering, the social sciences, education, arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media." How is this generous? If you are going to be successful in any of those fields, you have to be creative. Sure, we've all had crappy and unimaginative teachers, but we've read crappy and unimaginative authors too. What's the difference?

Then Jacobs, quoting her friend John Thackara, blames the sameness of design on Florida:
We had a series of tortured conversations about how design is being deployed in increasingly predictable ways. Eventually Thackara got around to pinning the problem on Florida. "It's all kind of tied up to the notion of a creative class," he remarked. "For good or ill, design sits bang in the middle of that category. It's quite remarkable how many city planners and developers I've met over the last couple of years who walk around either carrying or quoting this book as if it were a bible of how to make their city hip and modern and successful."
Sheesh. Just because you have a creative job doesn't mean that you are actually any good at it. If it weren't for Florida, they'd be mimicking each other doing something worse. Florida specifically says that there is no magic prescription. You have to figure out what your area's strengths are and how to leverage them. Most absurd is the compaint about design being in the creative class. Wow.

The concept of knowledge workers not being creative is completely bogus. What's really misleading, though, is what Jacobs leaves out. Florida discusses hair stylists at length, particularly in comparison to machinists. Clearly, stylists are creative class members in Florida's definition, but I don't know anyone who associates stylist and yuppie.


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